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Extraterritorial Adventures

flagI’m just back from a fascinating workshop at the University of Utrecht’s Law School that joined leading thinkers in international law with Israeli artists Ruti Sela and Maayan Amir. The blend of international law with art theory was right down my alley, and I presented a ‘greatest hits’ paper that re-examined several past research topics – legal ontologies of ice, seasteading, Grotius, the Mavi Marmara interdiction – with a focus on representations of extraterritory.

To get into the spirit of things, and to develop some original material for my presentation, I decided to eschew the usual 1 hour Newcastle-Amsterdam KLM flight and instead take the 15-hour DFDS ferry from North Shields (about 2 miles from my home) to Ijmuiden (about an hour’s bus/train ride from Utrecht). The DFDS ferry had made a brief appearance in my Wet World post with Kimberley Peters on the Society & Space blog, and the trip gave me an excuse to take the 7-minute River Tyne ferry boat (it’s the quickest way to North Shields from my home). So I thought: Why not turn the journey into an extraterritorial adventure?

I’m not totally sure that my experiment in mobile autoethnography worked. Large school groups of Dutch teens took over the discotheque and precluded my hope of writing about the extraterritorial experience of karaoke at sea. Meanwhile very rough seas on the way back, and the location of my cabin near the ship’s bow (“before the mast,” as it were) and just above the waterline, prevented me from writing this post while on board.

Probably my most interesting observation, which I hadn’t considered  before, was how the reterritorialisation of extraterritory is accomplished not just by one (extra)sovereign entity but by a web of normative institutions that speak through multiple sovereign powers. While it’s certainly the case that at the literal, legal level, the ship was an extraterritorial extension of Denmark that connected the UK with The Netherlands, the actual assemblage of extraterritorial extensions was much more complex, as this sign from outside the ship’s cinema attests.


Notwithstanding the ship’s Danish registry, little if any of the extratteritory being constructed on board was specifically Danish. Even while still in port in North Shields, we were informed that we were now on “Central European Time.” Of course, we were still in the UK’s territorial waters (actually, its internal waters), but this didn’t seem to matter. In a development that must have confirmed UKIPers’ worst fears, the territorial status of British waters had already been subsumed by the European extraterritorial. This premature imposition of extraterritoriality was presented as “Central European Time” — and, as the blue sign above demonstrates, “Continental Time”, “Dutch Time”, and (somewhat inexplicably) “German Time” — but the Danish element had been obscured, even though it could have very easily been included, since Denmark is also in that time zone.

Meanwhile, while the temporal extraterritorialisation was Central European / Continental / Dutch / German, linguistic extraterritorialisation was resolutely English, as the white sign to the left indicates. [I didn’t actually watch Kung Fu Panda 3, so I can’t verify the lack of subtitles.] At the same time, as the small red type at the bottom of that sign indicates, international anti-piracy norms have also been extraterritorialised. I guess that’s fitting, given that these norms originated at sea.

My little adventure with drive-by ethnography aside, the experience reminded me that extraterritorialisation combines a unilateral extension of sovereignty with the maintenance of systemic norms in a manner that simultaneously pushes against the borders of state territory while reaffirming its essential nature. That’s probably not the most original statement ever made about extraterritory, but, given the risks that I undertook in volunteering to write a paper in situ, I suppose I could have done a lot worse. Next ferry ride, though, I’ll be putting the computer (and camera phone) down and picking up my karaoke mic.



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